While many consider the sixth and final season of The Sopranos to be the absolute best, mainly due to its unprecedented 21-episode run, many have argued the merits of the groundbreaking series’ third season as well. Much of that has to do with the addition of Joe Pantoliano as the conniving Ralphie Cifaretto, whose long-running feud with Tony Soprano remains wildly unpredictable throughout the season.
The third season of The Sopranos ran from March to May of 2001, adding the likes of Burt Young and Annabella Sciorra in key roles. Series leads James Gandolfini and Edie Falco won Primetime Emmy Awards for the work as Tony and Carmela Soprano, respectively. Here are the 10 Best Episodes of Season 3, according to IMDb!
Second Opinion (Episode 7) 8.5/10
By the midway point of the season, Junior confesses he’s been diagnosed with stomach cancer. As the subtitle suggests, Tony urges Junior to get a second opinion when another invasive surgery is scheduled.
While Tony strong-arms a doctor to treat Junior with urgency, Carmela visits Dr. Melfi for a little one-on-one time. Melfi refers Carmela to another shrink, who brazenly tells Carmela she ought to leave Tony with the kids at once. Elsewhere, tensions arise between Chris and Paulie as the former struggles through the probationary period as a newly made man.
Fortunate Son (Episode 3) 8.5/10
In the third episode of the season, Christopher Moltisanti finally gets what he’s been asking for: to become a made man. However, when he comes up light on the $6,000 weekly betting quota he must maintain as part of the deal, Paulie flips out.
Elsewhere, Tony recalls the time his father lopped off a butcher’s pinky after failing to pay him on time. This induces Tony’s first panic attack, which Dr. Melfi considers a breakthrough. Unfortunately, Tony shows his uglier side when expressing racist reservations over Noah (Patrick Tully), Meadow’s half-black college boyfriend.
Another Toothpick (Episode 5) 8.7/10
Although he’s only given one episode to shine in, the great Burt Young does just that in episode 5 as Bobby Bacala Sr., a washed-up old-timer who comes out of retirement for one final job. Unfortunately, the job proves too much and Bacala Sr. ends up swimming with the fishes as well.
Meanwhile, Carmela begins attending therapy with Tony but quickly goes on the defensive after feeling attacked by Dr. Melfi. With Chris now a made man, he implores Adrianna to quit working for Artie and start her own business.
Proshai, Livushka (Episode 2) 8.7/10
In one of the more emotionally fraught frames of the season, Tony’s mother Liv finally succumbs to a massive stroke following one final visit from her son. With mixed emotions, Tony is ultimately relieved that his mother won’t have to testify against him in court.
The real-life death of actress Nancy Marchand (Liv) prior to the filming of the season caused writer David Chase to reimagine the entire season. Originally, season 3 was to focus heavily on Liv’s testimony against her son in criminal court, which had to be drastically altered upon her death.
University (Episode 6) 8.7/10
The frightening height of Ralphie Cifaretto’s (Joey Pants) terror comes home to roost in University, in which he bludgeons to death a 20-year-old stripper named Tracee (Ariel Kiley) for getting a bit too lippy. Worse yet, Tracee was pregnant with Ralphie’s illegitimate child. In a rightful but consequential response, Tony assaults made-man Ralphie on the spot.
Meanwhile, Meadow’s overdramatic college roommate Caitlin (Ari Graynor) keeps interrupting her romantic time with Noah, which ultimately frays their relationship.
Mr. Ruggerio’s Neighborhood (Episode 1) 8.7/10
For whatever reason, the season 3 premiere made a middling impact on IMDb users. The episode picks up with the FBI’s need to monitor Tony’s illicit activity following the death of a criminal informant. As such, the Feds try to bug the Soprano home while Tony and the family are out for the day.
As the effort to plant microphones in the Soprano home reaches comical heights, Tony must confront the possible vengeance of Patsy Parisi (Dan Grimaldi), who is still reeling over the death of his twin.
Employee Of The Month (Episode 4) 9.1/10
The episode Employee of the Month not only features a shocking amount of violence, but it also boasts one of the most heart-pounding stints of tension and suspense of the entire season, and perhaps the whole series.
When Dr. Melfi is brutally sexually assaulted and beaten in a stairwell after work, she takes little solace in knowing the police have the perpetrator in custody. When a failure of custody leads to the man’s freedom, Dr. Melfi later identifies him as a fast-food employee of the month. But she can’t tell Tony the truth and ask for his retaliatory help, so she lies and said she was injured in a car crash.
Army Of One (Episode 13) 9.0/10
Season 3 of The Sopranos marks the first time the final episode doesn’t rank as the highest of the year, according to IMDb. That said, it’s still good enough to earn the bronze.
Several plot threads and character arcs come to a close in Army of One. When A.J. gets expelled from school for pilfering an exam, Tony vows to send him to a military school for disciplinary structure. Meanwhile, Jackie Jr. cannot escape the ire of those he robbed during a poker game and ends up deader than Dillinger. The news devastates Meadow. Meanwhile, the feds assign a female undercover agent to get close to Adriana.
Amour Fou (Episode 12) 9.2/10
The French subtitle Amour Fou translates to obsessive and uncontrollable passion, which is precisely the feeling Tony’s newest mistress, Gloria (Annabella Sciorra), cannot parry in the penultimate episode of season 3.
The real crux of the chapter, however, comes when Jackie Aprile Jr. (Jason Cerbone) inadvertently robs a high-stakes card game at Ralphie’s behest. With Chris in attendance, he’s left no option but to retaliate against Jackie Jr. and his accomplices. Meanwhile, Gloria jealously contacts Carmela, sending Tony signals of how crazy and unstable she really is.
Pine Barrens (Episode 11) 9.7/10
Directed by Steve Buscemi, by far the best chapter of season 3 belongs to Pine Barrens, according to IMDb. In fact, it’s the highest-rated episode of the entire series.
With Sil under the weather, Chris and Paulie take his place in collecting $5,000 from a Russian goon. After ostensibly choking the Ruskie to death with a lamp, the goon is still alive. As such, Chris and Paulie take the man into the wooded Pine Barrens of South Jersey to whack him and bury his body. But when the goon makes a daring escape after a shot to the head, Chris and Paulie are stranded in the snow overnight while searching for the man. Tony comes to the rescue after Chris and Paulie nearly freeze to death in a deserted plumbing van